When King Charles II of England married Princess Catherine de Braganza of Portugal in 1661, he
received as part of his dowry the isles of Bom Bahia, the Good Bay. Reclaimed from the sea, these
would become the modern city of Bombay. A marriage of affluence and abject poverty, where a
grey concrete jungle is the backdrop to a heady potpourri of ethnic, linguistic and religious
subcultures, Bombay, renamed Mumbai after the goddess Mumbadevi, defies definition.
Bombay, Meri Jaan, comprising poems and prose pieces by some of the biggest names
in literature, in addition to cartoons, photographs, a song and a Bombay Duck recipe, tries to
capture the spirit of this great metropolis.
Salman Rushdie, Pico Iyer, Dilip Chitre, Saadat Hasan Manto, V.S. Naipaul,
Khushwant Singh and Busybee, among others, write about aspects of the city: the high-rise
apartments and the slums; camaraderie and isolation in the crowded chawls; bhelpuri on the beach
and cricket in the gully; the women’s compartment of a local train; encounter cops who battle the
underworld; the jazz culture of the sixties; the monsoon floods; the Shiv Sena; the cinema halls; the
Vibrant, engaging and provocative, this is an anthology as rich and varied as the city it
Introduction: The Live City
Jerry Pinto and Naresh Fernandes
Once Bombay lodges itself in your eye, you’re doomed to a lifetime of tunnel vision. Exploring the
damp delights of Brussels one morning not so long ago, we made our way to the Cinquantenaire, a
triumphal arch erected to commemorate Belgium’s golden jubilee. We peered at its drizzly outlines
for a few seconds and almost simultaneously reached the same conclusion: it was merely a bombastic
version of the Gateway of India.
We already shared another conviction. We’d both lived in other cities, but it was clear
that Bombay is home. Our roots had fed off the putrefied ballast of palm fronds and fish entrails that
was used to reclaim the seven islands from ocean and iniquity. Unfortunately, it’s scarcely that
simple. Roots don’t hold easily in a metropolis built on ever-shifting flood plains and tremulous
marsh. Bombay’s always a struggle, but we are hooked on the thrilled of daily combat.
Bombay has none of the imperium of Delhi, the self-conscious stasis of Calcutta or the
provincial self-satisfaction of Madras. it is the ugly stepdaughter city but Prince Charming must cut
his heels off to win her hand. It is a city in which no one dies of starvation but the vast majority are
forced to endure living conditions that no enlightened zookeeper would allow for his animals. Yet the
exiles and arrivistes keep flooding into the City Imagined, to the Bombay they see as siren and
saviour. They never leave.
Why would you do that? Why would you live in a matchbox, breathe bad air, drink foul
water, offer yourself as mosquito-fodder and roadkill? Because Bombay is an addiction. It isn’t
good or you but you need the high of neon and insomnia, concrete and opportunity.
While putting together an anthology such as this one is not rocket science, it tends to
have its own challenges. What you exclude becomes as much of a statement as what you include.
Then there is always a streak of guilt. Friends become repositories of wisdom and talk about the
ancient hamam in South Bombay where you can still have a Turkish bath; others ask if you are
including anything on the black sand beach from which one of Emperor Ashoka’s progeny is
supposed to have set out to proselytize for the Buddha; others suggest impossible photo-essays on
the interiors of the Governor’s bungalow or a dog’s eye-view of the city. Everyone has a Bombay
story, a Bombay they want represented. And everyone’s Bombay is not the Bombay we thought we
When we started on this project, we were clear: we wanted to serve up the taste of the
Lived Bombay rather than the move exotic flavours of the Visited Bombay. This is a vision of
Bombay, stereoscopic, multiple, fuzzy, alienated, integrated, all of the above.
The inside back flap is blank. That’s where you should write your Bombay story or put
in the piece you would have written had you the time or the one you wrote and we didn’t know
Back of the Book
Nissim Ezekiel Pico Iyer Khushwant Singh Dilip Chitre J. Gerson da Cunha Paromita
Vohra Adil Jussawalla Vilas Sarang Naju Kava Nikhil Rao Rudyard Kipling Aldous
Huxley Suketu Mehta Arundhathi Subramaniam Salman Rushdie Farrukh Dhondy Sunil
GavaskarChirodeep Chaudhari Kiran Nagarkar Daya PawarJeremy Seabrook V.S.
Naipaul Salim AliRahul Srivastava Khwaja Ahmad Abbas Sameera KhanGillian Tindall
Saadat Hasan Manto Paul Theroux Dosebai Cowasjee Jessawalla Neera AdarkarDuke
Ellington Manjula Sen Shabnam MinwallaCyrus Mistry Suvarnalata Rao Arun
Kolatkar.Meena Menon Nina MartyrisBusybee Andre Malraux.
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